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Dennis acquitted on child abuse charge

Aug. 31, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Delmond R. Dennis Jr. walked out of court Friday morning relieved that a judge's acquittal recognized what he had known all along.

"They didn't prove what they couldn't prove," he said.

Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell ruled the prosecution's case lacked evidence needed to prove its charge, child abuse causing the death of 6-year-old Jordan Moore. Dennis' stepson died June 18, 2009, hours after a fall at the family's home in Huntington's 100 block of Wilson Court.

Farrell announced his ruling at the close of the state's presentation of its case late Friday morning. It came in response to what is typically a routine motion by defense attorneys for a directed verdict of acquittal. Such motions are denied in virtually all cases, but that did not happen Friday in a move that even surprised the defense attorney.

Courtenay Craig believed in his argument for acquittal, but had never seen such a motion prevail in his 13 years of practice. He applauded Farrell afterward, calling his decision a step in the right direction for Cabell County.

"I had a good client, I had great facts, I had a great investigative team, and I had a judge who had the moral courage to do the right thing," Craig said. "He weighed the evidence, he looked at it, he required the state to meet its burden, and he determined that they failed. I applaud him for not being a politician, but for being a judge. That's what we need in this county."

Those prosecuting the case declined interview requests Friday, however the Prosecutor's Office itself released a statement later Friday expressing disappointment but respect for Farrell's ruling. Prosecutor Chris Chiles added his office will not appeal the decision.

In opening statements, those representing Chiles' office argued Moore's death and severe head injury were no accident. They leaned upon expert testimony to insist brain swelling was consistent with a significant abdominal injury and lesser bruises to other parts of his body, when taken together showed potential abuse.

Farrell did not agree.

The judge told prosecutors their case failed to show maliciousness and intent, both prerequisites to secure such a conviction. Moore's family wept upon hearing Farrell's decision and declined comment afterward.

Farrell explained his move to jurors after their lunch recess, a courtroom gathering attended by Dennis' attorney, his family and friends. Noticeably absent were those who prosecuted Dennis and Moore's family.

"You'll notice there is a dramatic change in the landscape," Farrell told jurors, while explaining his job to ensure they have sufficient evidence. "The state failed to meet its burden, failed to have adequate information, evidence, to allow you to deliberate."

The defense maintained Dennis loved the child, taught him to do things independently and checked his body for bumps and bruises when he suffered what became a deadly fall down their home's stairwell. Dennis found no obvious sign of injury, laid the child to bed and checked on him multiple times, but forgot to tell the boy's mother of the incident as falling was something of a routine for the child, who suffered with developmental issues that included cerebral palsy and autism.

Craig's opening statement had foreshadowed Friday's decision. He argued prosecutors would prove Dennis' presence at the house, but that alone would not be evidence that he "intentionally and maliciously tried to hurt this child."

The case spurred two indictments, one for neglect and a later filing for abuse. The first indictment, in January 2010, alleged Dennis neglected the child by not taking him to the hospital. It relied upon grand jury testimony from Huntington Police Detective Chris Sperry, who testified at the time he did not believe Dennis did anything intentional to the child.

The prosecution, without Sperry's assistance, secured the more serious charge of abuse causing death in September 2010. Craig said testimony to secure that indictment came from Tim Murphy, an investigator with the Prosecutor's Office.

Chiles declined comment Friday when asked what led his office to pursue the more serious charge. He also said the switch in investigators meant nothing, explaining a vacation might have been to blame. Court records show his office dismissed the initial indictment last month.

Dennis remained incarcerated Friday in connection with an unrelated indictment. It charges him with drug possession and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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